NORMAN — Oklahoma defensive end D.J. Ward has finally been cleared by the NCAA. The freshman participated in his first practice Tuesday.
“I’m really excited for D.J. It’s been a long process, but fortunately he’s been cleared to practice,” OU coach Bob Stoops said after Tuesday’s practice. “He has to spend two days in just helmets. So he couldn’t do much. But he did fundamental work in learning the defense.”
The two practices Ward will spend without pads come prior to OU’s annual Red/White Spring Game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Owen Field.
Ward, who graduated from Southmoore in December, has been held out of the initial 11 spring practices and offseason workouts with the team while the NCAA made its determination on his eligibility.
Ward, a four-star recruit, didn’t play football last fall because the OSSAA ruled him ineligible after he transferred from Douglas High School in Oklahoma City to Southmoore in August. Ward attended Lawton High School prior to transferring to the Oklahoma City school.
Ward’s status has been in limbo since enrolling at OU in January.
“I’m not pointing fingers that it should have happened sooner. Anymore with eligibility and with classes being taken sometimes in different ways, they have to make sure it’s correct,” Stoops said. “It is now, so we’ll move forward.”
There’s going to be a lot of rust that needs to be knocked off. The spring game will be Ward’s first game-like outing since his junior year of high school in 2011.
“I imagine there will be some (rust),” Stoops said. “Although it comes to him pretty natural. But yeah, that’s fair to say there will be some. It will take him a little while to get back into that kind of shape and get a feel for it.”
Mistakes add up: Stoops said the quarterback derby continues. One of the aspects of the competition between Blake Bell, Kendal Thompson and Trevor Knight is that all three haven’t fully embraced that the one who makes the least mistakes will likely win the job.
“It seems like every day or scrimmage or team session, there will be one or two plays that ‘you better reevaluate that one.’ And it’s all of them,” Stoops said. “I’m not saying they’re doing a bad job. They’re doing a really good job. But some of those plays can be game-changers. You can’t make them. You can’t gamble with the ball.”
All three give OU’s offense an added dimension because of their ability to run. But Stoops said their ability to extend plays is misleading when they’re wearing blue jerseys and cannot be hit by defenders.
“They know they’re not being tackled, so they’ll hold on to the ball a little longer and let something go at the end,” Stoops said. “Oh, and they get a touchdown where they’d have got hit in the mouth, the ball would have gone straight up in the air, and they would have probably run it back. Those are things you’re pointing out on tape. As much as anything, you have to keep snapping the ball, get them as many reps and get them in those types of situations as much as you can.”
Chasing isn’t fun: The quarterback’s ability to run has been a quality edition to the offense. Defensive linemen, however, aren’t happy about scrimmaging against a running quarterback.
“You know just as well as I do, the threat of a running quarterback, he can throw and run ... all three of the guys we’ve got rotating right now can do that, so it’s definitely been frustrating,” defensive tackle Torrea Peterson said. “When you think you’ve got a guy caged in, he finds a little seam and he pops another first down. That’s probably been the most frustrating thing of the spring.”
Easy day: Several of OU’s established starters will not play in the spring game or will be on the field in a limited capacity. Stoops said cornerback Aaron Colvin and fullback Trey Millard will not do much. Running backs Damien Williams and Brennan Clay will also be limited.
All four are healthy, but Stoops doesn’t believe established senior starters need to play much in spring scrimmage.
“Those guys have played a ton of football for us,” Stoops said. “I don’t need to see them out there.”
Autographs after the game: OU will hold a 45-minute autograph session following the spring game. The autograph session will be available only to those fans who attend the game. No post-game-only access will be permitted.
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